Watch what you eat, watch what you tweet

By Addison Walton

In a recent post in the journalism/technology blog “10,000 Words,” Elena Zak highlights eight media members who were either fired or reprimanded by their companies for unacceptable tweets. What’s interesting about this piece is how it starts off. The first sentence says “When it comes to Twitter, journalists tread a thin line. While a lot of news organizations strongly suggest their reporters sign up for an account and gain followers, many don’t have a written social media policy.” (Read part 2 of Zak’s report here)

Herein lies the first problem with social media and many other journalism outlets today. In only one of the cases about which Zak writes is there a breach of a company’s social-media policy. The first step to rectify this growing trend of reporters crossing the thin line needs to be implementation of a social-media policy. (Of course, using common sense would help, but let’s put that aside.) With more news filtering through Twitter, news organizations need to have a clear set of guidelines if they are going to ask their reporters to open accounts and use them to report.

Now let’s look at the media members who were fired or reprimanded for their tweets. These members can easily be grouped. The first group contains blogger Markos Moulitsas, MSNBC’s David Shuster, and Australian radio announcer Gavin Miller (no longer on Twitter). They all used social media to attack their adversaries. It’s not hard to figure out Twitter doesn’t operate under a cloak of anonymity. With more prominence comes more followers, and these three just didn’t use good judgment.

The second group of fired journalists combines controversy with the explosion of social media. From Middle East issues to same-sex marriage, this group set off fire storms because of their tweets. CNN Middle East affairs editor Octavia Nasr, Arizona Daily Star writer Brian Pedersen, The Age’s Catharine Deveny, radio reporter Renee Gork and Rogers Sportsnet Damian Goddard were fired after injecting their personal views on the topics they covered. You may ask yourself, this is America (or Canada in Goddard’s case), I can tweet whatever that little bird desires, but not when you are representing media outlets with your Twitter accounts. That is what these five journalists did not understand.

As journalism gravitates toward the Web and Twitter, etiquette and professionalism must come along for the ride. The principles being taught in journalism schools need to carry over to social media. As many have noted, Twitter can sometimes be a loaded gun. So just remember not to shoot yourself in the foot.

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